Following the release of his album Champagne Attitude, we caught an interview with actor and artist Amaru to find out more about his creative journey so far. Here’s the conversation in full.
* * *
Hi Amaru – thank you for the interview, and congratulations on the album! Just to give a little background, how long have you been making music, and what does this latest project mean to you?
Well, thank you very much for taking the time, the pleasure is all mine! I have been making music since 2007, actually. Of course, just like every other aspiring singer I did all the talent shows and what have you, but in 2007 I finally went to Chicago to record a couple of songs, which I thought would lead to my first album. The experience in Chicago was horrendous, to say the very least and I returned to The Netherlands with a different outlook on the business aspect of show business as well as a different outlook on certain human beings. While that project didn’t lead to anything, it did prepare me for what was ahead and after releasing a number of singles, I finally decided to work toward my debut album Champagne Attitude. And if you can imagine, this is my “first born”, so I am beyond proud and elated about its release! All the songs on the album are of a highly personal nature to me. Each one of them tells a little bit of “the story of AMARU”, if you will.
Where did the term Champagne Attitude come from?
Yeah, I coined that phrase, lol! Anyway, once upon a time there was someone I thought was cool and nice and sincere… but it turned out that that was not the case. So one day, in a heated discussion and out of pure frustration I told this individual that I was sick and tired of their “champagne attitude”! Meaning, I was sick and tired of always being put down and belittled and to be treated less than. Somebody with a champagne attitude is somebody who thinks they’re a glass of champagne when in fact they’re nothing but a glass of piss. These people are not your friend, they will stop at nothing to walk all over you, look down on you and treat you like the bottom of a shoe, in their pursuit of self importance. But I had reached my limit that day and so hence “champagne attitude”, lol! And initially I wanted to name the album Gentle Giant, because that’s what I am, when you get to know me. But then halfway into production, I remembered that outburst from so many years ago and I wrote Champagne Attitude, which I thought would make a far better title commercially, so hence.
In what ways, if any, has your background in acting impacted your creativity or performance when it comes to music?
I think acting and music go hand in hand, it’s a different kind of performing really. When you’re on a stage performing your music, it’s a different kind of interaction that you have with your audience as opposed to being in front of a camera acting out a script. When I went to acting and film school I learned about camera angles and one’s position on set and in the video frame and what have you. As a result of that, when I shoot music videos for instance, I know where to look, where to stand, how to react to the music and lyrics, which in essence are your script… so in conclusion I think they compliment each other, acting and music do. And while I always wanted to sing and perform, it was the acting that took off first, I must say, so…
What’s the songwriting process like for you – how do you get started, what comes first, and how do you know what topics to write about?
I believe that a rule of thumb is to write about what you know. The songs on my debut album Champagne Attitude are all little chapters of the book of my life, but I didn’t want the album to be a sob fest, my intention was not to make people jump off the Chrysler Building after listening to album, I wanted to make people dance… and think! So while the subject matter sometimes is very heavy, the beat or music is very uplifting. Now most of the time when I write something new, it starts with a melody that creeps into my head. In actual fact, 2 weeks ago I woke up in the middle of the night singing a melody, which I recorded on my cell phone. I was still very groggy, but I listened to the playback the next day and I have a new song waiting to be recorded! But sometimes I can also start off with a phrase that I may have heard or read somewhere before and take it from there. Almost immediately I determine the tempo of the song, to which I adjust the lyrics, and a simple drum loop can assist tremendously in that regard, after which I work on a basic chord progression and if the demo sounds somewhat okay, I take it to the studio so that my (co) producer and I can start working on the actual song.
If you had to choose just one song from the album for listeners with limited free time, which would you recommend, and why?
Wow… that’s a good one… See, I’m biased, of course, I have a couple of favourites. I think it would be a toss up between Pa’ Mi Gente (For My People) and That’s The Way I Like It. The first because it is a salsa track and almost everybody likes to jam along to a salsa tune, not to mention that it’s a tribute to my Latin people everywhere. The latter being a tribute to Bob Marley and his country, the island of Jamaica. The lyrics are very self explanatory and very empowering and uplifting, while the reggae beat, much like the salsa beat, will do the rest, as many people also like reggae music.
Is live performance an important part of what you do, and if so – what can audiences expect from a live show?
I think performing live is important to promote one’s music. and when I am booked to do a live set, I always try to engage my audience, I try to create a homely feeling and atmosphere, I make enough eye contact, I get them involved in the show. If I do a show with dancers, I always make sure I know the choreography too, because that makes for a nice and entertaining show. So my audience can be rest assured that they will be entertained! They will leave my show feeling good about themselves and that they would definitely want to see me again.
What was the music scene like in the Republic of Suriname when compared to the Netherlands?
My native country has always had a very rich musical history! You have to understand that it is a melting pot of different people from various parts of the world and all of them have their own customs, rites, cuisines and… music! The indigenous people of my country are the Amer-Indians or as they are referred to in the USA, the Native Americans. Their music is very tribal and very organic. They don’t need a ton of instruments to make music, a simple piece of wood for instance is sometimes more than sufficient and efficient! They also have a very specific way of singing, chanting almost, and when I listen to the music of these fellow countrymen, it really forces me to focus, it takes me back and while I hardly ever look back, I do when I listen to tribal music. I feel like I’m paying homage to those who have gone before me, those that have paved the way, if you will… if that makes sense. My mother’s maternal grandmother was Amer-Indian from the Carib Indian Tribe, actually.
Now, after the abolition of slavery, the descendants of the African slaves retreated to the interior of the country and some of those tribes still live like their ancestors used to way back when. They also have a very tribal, yet more vocal and more rhythmic style of music, which will make you shake a tail feather, but at the same time it will get you in a spiritual mood or even a trance, depending how susceptible you are to those things. The descendants of the West-Indians have their Indian music, as in “Bollywood” Indian, the descendants from the Javanese people have their own Indonesian style music and traditions as well and so do the Chinese.
My country also, to this day, has an annual songwriting competition called “Suripop”, in which singer/songwriters can submit original songs to be included in the competition in an effort to crown the best song (or songs) of that year. The songs are very much influenced by the current mainstream pop songs and they are always on heavy rotation on our radio stations. Many of these performers wind up gaining great fame in our country and sometimes they even cross over to The Netherlands to pursue their musical careers. My country used to be a colony of The Netherlands, so hence.
Who or what would you say inspires you the most to follow your dreams and live a creative life?
I can’t say one person or one thing specifically… I think it was Whoopi Goldberg’s character Mary Clarence in Sister Act who once said “if you wake up in the morning and you can’t think of anything but singing first, then you’re supposed to be a singer”, or words to that effect. And that’s the way it has always been for me. I wake up with music on my mind, I go to bed with music on my mind. It’s my absolute first love, so… But I do have to credit my late maternal grandmother for planting the first seed and as a child, after I’d seen Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton singing Islands In The Stream on TV… that’s when I knew that “someday I am to sing with my Kenny and my Dolly”. That moment may never come, but a guy can dream, right?
In addition to that, I am a very creative person and anything that has something to do with art is right up my alley. I never studied graphic design, but I’m self taught and rather good at it. As mentioned earlier, I did go to acting school and film school, so directing and editing are no stranger to me. I’d like to think that these things are an innate part of me, I can’t separate myself from art. I’m the happiest when I’m at the studio working on music or when I’m busy editing a new music video with some of the guys I work with, you know?
What are your thoughts on the mainstream music world and the modern ways of bridging the gap between that and independent artistry?
Most current music sounds exactly alike… when I turn on the radio and I listen to a mainstream radio station, it’s like listening to a mega mix of one song… All these people try to look and sound alike, there must be a shortage of music producers out there, because everybody seems to be working with the same producer over and over again… Music these days, to ME, is not very exciting, it’s rather boring and very pre-fabricated. It’s not very genuine and rather soul-less in my opinion and people don’t actually write anymore! Lyrics these days are very much your typical “hey hey hey” and oh oh oh”, followed by some kind of ‘horrendous sounding keyboard midi like instrumentation…’ I promise you, I tried hard to describe it and even with my very developed vocabulary, that’s all I could make of it (lol).
In addition to that, people stopped buying physical music the minute the mp3 made its entrance into the world. And that is something that the music industry itself has caused. On one hand digital music has opened doors for independent artists like myself, because we are now able to do it ourselves without having to wait or rely on a huge record label to sign us, if they care to do so at all. On the other hand and as independent artists it is also very difficult to make a living selling digital music, especially considering that it costs more than 99 cents to produce ONE song…
You’ve had an impressive career so far, what advice could you give to young actors, musicians or creatives, who want to pursue a career in the arts but aren’t sure where to begin or whether they have what it takes?
First of all, there should be a burning desire to become whatever it is that you wanna become. The desire should be ever present and that’s when you’ll know. If you’re bored easily or you’re unsure about which route to take, you may wanna sleep on it a little more. But and however, if you’re sure about your career path, make sure to educate yourself very well in your field of choice. As it pertains to music, I had to study and learn as much as I can about the BUSINESS side of show business, especially after my Chicago misadventure. I’m still learning, I certainly don’t know everything, but I do know plenty. What I did next was simply started doing what I wanted to do and learned as I went along.
And never be afraid to fail, making mistakes promotes growth and that’s what life is all about. I mean, I have a lot of people who look at what I do and they make fun or they laugh at me or they wanna sit on the side line “sharing” their two cents… which I’m not interested in, because these people are never there when you need them or ask them for advise. And if by any chance you do ask them for advise, years later they wanna throw it in your face. This happened to me by a well established singer and I stopped being a fan right then and there. Being the perfectionist that I am, I had to teach myself that making mistakes was okay… or better yet: doing things differently is okay… And I have always been one to march to my own drum, so that’s also a tip I can give people. Don’t try to be like ‘so and so’, you’re not them and they’re not you. Take the path less traveled by, dazzle yourself and hopefully a few new spectators along the way. The journey is very short, so why not plan your own trip, right?
What’s something most people don’t know about Amaru?
I’m not a mainstream artist, so there is plenty that people don’t know about me, lol! But I’m sure there are people out there, I’m thinking even among your readers, who don’t know that I have a very successful Youtube cooking channel called “Food And The Single Guy”. Go check it out, my subscriber count is ever-growing and I’m very grateful for that too! People may also not know that I’m very good with kids, even though I have never had the desire to become a parent. I’m great with all my nieces and nephews and they in turn love their ‘Uncle Marty”. Another fun fact: I am single by choice! I have been burnt one time too many in love and I figured, if there’s anybody out there who wants “all of this”, they’d better be ready and they will have to WORK for it…! And what if nobody wants “it”, you ask? Well, then the sun will definitely shine again tomorrow somewhere on planet Earth, lol!
What’s next for you – what are some of your biggest aspirations as an artist?
Well, I am in the process of shooting my first international feature film. I play a small part in this film, but I am one of the key characters in the picture. And of course, with a face like mine, I play a bad guy, lol! But I can’t wait to see the finished product, I’m very excited about that. I have done international commercials and live gigs before, but this would be my first international feature. And as an actor that is always a nice addition to the IMDB resume. Like many performing artists I too have hopes of becoming the next big thing in music, I’m not gonna lie to you. I aspire and desire to one day have a home of my own that sits on a large piece of land… which I own too! I have big dreams and I hope all of them will come to pass someday! In addition to that I will continue to promote my album and the rest of my music and who knows, said huge break just might be waiting for me around the corner!
What’s the best thing people can do to support you right now?
In all honesty, the best thing people can do to support me now is to BUY my music! People can either buy “Champagne Attitude”, the CD in two editions: the regular commercial edition digipak CD with full colour sleeve and lyric booklet OR the special collector’s edition which is printed on linen. More information about the album as well as photos of the actual CD are available on www.amaru-music.com. The digital album however is available on iTunes, CD Baby, Google Play and Amazon.com. Some of my previously released music is also available on Spotify, by the way.
Is there anything else we should know?
I’m addicted to shoes… sporty high tops mostly or nice leather boots with a zipper on the side, with a very distinguished print… Strangely shaped shoes, odd shoes, different shoes… Different… like me… right up my alley… size 12 (US or 46 EUR) if you please…! LOL!
* * *